Seeking Inspiration

My elementary school kids have been having a lot of fun doing “cave paintings”.

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I told them not to use scotch tape on their drawings but some of them didn’t listen. Hey, Picasso didn’t always use archival methods for his masterpieces. So I let it go or peeled it off where I could.

The other day I couldn’t sleep after the election. I laid awake in bed worrying. How would I deal with my Junior High kids? I live in a predominantly Hispanic area. As a matter of fact, I was going to write a blog about how it feels to be a minority. I felt this long ago when I first went to Hawaii from Iowa and in my World History class in a huge auditorium I sat in the back. Before me was a sea of black haired people. In Iowa one would never see this. We had a handful of Jewish, one black family and one Chinese family. In Hawaii that was all upside down with Chinese, Japanese, and Pacific Islanders.

Here in Madera it’s the same. In the classes you have all Hispanic except for maybe one white kid.

So I laid awake. Finally I figured out that it was me who needed help the most. And by helping myself maybe I could deal with the uncertainty. I decided that we would draw heroes. I decided that I needed to remind myself that we’ve been here before. And we’ve had people who stand up in the avalanche in the hopes of slowing it down. All is not lost. And there is work to be done.

I found Muhammad Ali, Malama Yousefzai, Martin Luther King, Dolores Huerta, Mother Teresa, Anne Frank and a host of others.

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The kids appreciated it and it sure was good for me, too.

It Works Pretty Well

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I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving week. There’s no school and I have a bunch of drawings I would like to work on. I want to have all brand new stuff for the show in March 2017 at the Orland Art Center and I need to get going. In the meantime I have been talking about things like limited palette, washes, tone, value and resist in my after school and day time art classes.

These are 3rd and 4th grade kids so whatever I talk about I have to show as well. Hey, one picture worth a thousand words, right? At this age I feel it is still important to Just Have Fun so in between Fun I sneak in Ideas. I remember a horse trainer, Brian Neubert, giving me advice about how to teach my daughter when she was just starting out with horses. I think this advice applies to many things in life including art. He said get the best baby sitter horse you can find and then let the kids have fun. It worked with his kids. They’re all outstanding horsemen.

So I apply this with grade school kids. Let them have fun. The skills get into their bones just by the doing of it.

The junior high kids are more adept. So I give them projects that make them think and work with more discipline. I gave the kids gray paper the other day and white and black charcoal pencils. I said Draw a Hand. See how you do. Remember the shapes. Translate what you see on to the page (magic). Use the gray paper as the mid-tone. See the highlights and shadow.

A simple sketch. It works pretty well.

Having a Blast

I’m getting more and more involved with my Madera School District art teaching. Madera Arts Council asked me to take on daytime teaching in addition to the after school teaching. So I did. Daytime is different from after school. Daytime is structured just like an ordinary classroom while after school is unstructured.  We’re relaxed in afterschool. I teach the same concepts but it’s not in the context of a specific project.  After school kids are exhausted from a long day and they just want to chill. So we chill. We sit around and draw animé or manga subjects, for example, because they’re really into it anyway and I insert pointers, ideas and philosophy as the need comes up.

In daytime classroom I have a structured project that I have to accomplish start to finish in one hour. I decided to have the 4th graders make their versions of cave paintings. It was a rousing success.

My kids loved their first lesson and can’t wait for the next. We were short on paint brushes, but I was able to find some of my old ones in my cabinet. All in all, the kids had a lot of fun with Renée.

Mindy Ruz, 4th grade teacher, Madison Elementary

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I start by showing pictures of real cave paintings from Spain and France and we talk about them a little. Remember, I don’t have much time. I say we’re going to talk about the first artists, the first artist studio and spray paint. We look at the paintings and I ask the kids what they see.

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They all yell out “It’s a buffalo!”

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It’s a horse!

They’re all more than eager to speak out which is terrific. I wish I could just have them make comments because all the comments are so good. But we move on. I tell them don’t ever let anyone tell you art is not important. Just think. 30,000 years ago people thought art was so important that they sought out quiet places, the first artist studio, to make their art. I tell them you can see that art has been important for a long, long time. Then I tell them about spray paint. I tell them we aren’t going to do this in class but that I want them to know how that silhouette of the hand (of a person a lot like us 30,000 years ago. Imagine that!) was probably made. Probably the artist took a bunch of muddy liquid in their mouth and spurted it out in a spray. They all grimace. I say it wasn’t toxic but it probably didn’t taste very good.

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Our ancestors

So we begin the project. It’s controlled chaos and they’re all into it. When we’re done 55 minutes later and it’s time to clean up they’ve done a  real good job. I’ve had to get out my favorite admonishment maybe only once. Can’t do it? That’s ok. I’m OK with you saying that. But I want you to add a word to that sentence. I want you to add the word “yet” as in “I can’t do this… yet.” Art takes practice and, trust me, when I was your age I drew just like you. But I never gave up. That’s what it takes. So give yourself a break and..

let me see what you’re doing and how we might make it more to your liking.

My favorite part comes when I say now I want you to do something with your almost finished drawing. I tell them to hold it up. A little suspense does not hurt. Then I demonstrate. I wad the drawing up. I revel in the shocked expressions on their faces. I tell them. No worries. Just carefully unwad it and see how it now looks more like “rock” when it’s all crinkly.

We’re expanding minds here, folks. Let’s think outside the box.

It’s a good project that I came up with. I didn’t really know if it would work or not but turns out it does. The kids learn something and they’re having a blast. Isn’t that the best way to learn something?

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I’m Still Learning

 

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Oh Boy. I have not been doing any of my own artwork lately. I took a job. I’m teaching art to elementary school and junior high school kids. I got the job through the Madera Arts Council and I’m teaching in the Madera schools.

It’s a big job and it’s given me a whole new respect for teachers in general. We do a lot of work outside of class that we don’t get paid for. But the kids are wonderful. Oh sure they act up once in a while but they’re all really sweet and some are really talented and the others just like to draw whatever I set before them. What’s not to like about Art Class, right?

What I’m Really Teaching

I have had to introduce the concept of “yet”. As in “I’m no good …. yet”. I do not believe in letting those mind games take over so I tell those kids that I don’t like it when they say This is Ugly or I Can’t Draw. I say let’s think about it another way. Why is it ugly? Maybe ugly is not the right word. Maybe it’s This isn’t what I had in mind. Or It isn’t what I wanted. Those things are curable. I tell them I’ll help you fix it. Sometimes I quote Georgia O’Keefe who said no one is good at the beginning. Practice practice practice.

So “I can’t draw” is out. “I can’t draw… yet” is in. We never stop practicing. I’m 65 years old and I’m still learning.

Sometimes our project is doing scratchers. The paper is coated and you scratch off the surface to reveal what is underneath. It’s not as easy as you might think. You have to plan ahead because once you’ve made a line you can’t erase it. When that happens I say well how can we remedy this? Maybe there’s a way to camouflage the mistake.

I’m hoping that once I get my chops down and a repeating curriculum set I will be able to go back to doing my own drawings. I’m thinking November.

Ditto (About the Love)

Then because I really feel best when I’m drawing I decided to work on a project I’ve had in mind for months. One day a few weeks after we’d been here we went to the Lazy K colt sale over by Chowchilla (don’t you love that name! Pronounced just how it looks.). There were a host of colorful characters there and I serreptitously snapped a few shots of terribly interesting faces. I saw this older man that I instantly fell in love with. He was with a younger man (his grandson?). They both had the same hats on. I was dying to go up to them and ask who are you you’re both beautiful and where are those hats from but I chickened out.

The photo I took, of course, was so, so bad but it had enough information for me to figure stuff out. I guess that’s the bennies of doing this for so long that you can know what is supposed to go where and you can put it in. The way is now in the DNA.

My dad said it just has to be convincing. I think this is. PS just so you know I’m actually going to put a little more work into his coat and the back ground but not much. His face is the interesting part.

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Mr. Fox

What follows is one of my most favorite quotes. I have one other. A poem called “God Speaks” by Rainer Maria Rilke. This quote by Henry Beston fits my subject for today and for the foreseeable future. I am undertaking a project to draw as many of our animal brethren as I can. The first is Mr. Fox. I think foxes are lovely.

“When the Pleiades and the wind in the grass are no longer a part of the human spirit, a part of very flesh and bone, man becomes, as it were a kind of cosmic outlaw, having neither the completeness and integrity of the animal nor the birthright of a true humanity.
We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the Earth.” – Henry Beston from The Outermost House
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the earth without art is just eh

I don’t know where I got that quote. That phrase I use for the title of this post. It doesn’t matter. Good things should be passed along. I believe the originator would be happy to have it passed along without a particular credit. There is satisfaction in having things go out there no matter (almost no matter) where they emanate from.

This is a small piece. 19″ wide by 12″ tall. I’ve decided to do some pieces that aren’t big. It was as it always is. A torture and a joy to create. Now that it’s “finished” (is anything ever finished?) I’m satisfied. Maybe even pleased. Thank you for coming to see it.

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